Legend of the Exile, Chapter 35: Introspective
I once heard of a dragon with scales like blood
Who came down from the highlands in fire and mud
Her eyes and claws shone like cold-hearted gold
She forced lords to their knees with power untold
Eyes gleaming golden in the sun, Rush emerged from the Champion's hall and proudly stepped onto Kanto Stadium. Behind the mighty warrior, Insyte, Lyther, Shanala, and the rest of his council all filed out into the sunlit arena to join the Swampert's side. The stands were filled with Retrievers and humans alike, and a mighty cheer rose up as the heroes stood before them, valiant and glorious.
The Exile had all but scorched the earth, and in his terrible quest for revenge, had snuffed out thousands upon thousands of lives. Once the innocent creatures who dwelled hidden away in forests and caverns, far from human eyes, Pokemon had become a terrible force to be reckoned with. And yet it was Pokemon who stopped the Exile, who turned him back, who forced him into retreat.
The haunted survivors of Giratina's mad warpath could not fathom what thoughts these brave Pokemon might hold, or why they rose up against the Exile. But they knew one thing for certain: Rush and the Retrievers had saved Indigo Plateau--and with it, the last hopes of humanity--from destruction.
At the end of the row stood Insyte, and behind him stood Shanala, who was no leader, but was there for her mate. "Shanala," whispered Insyte, staring at the human survivors staring down at him. Retracting his golden claws, the Flareon touched a paw to the Orb about his neck. "The Vulcanites... are they happy, right now?"
"They've never been happier," replied the Ninetales, the light catching the lovely jewelry adorning her pelt. "Once Marrow has fully recovered, he will take a patrol to investigate the outpost at Lavaridge, which has not been heard from in over a year."
She stared to Suicune, Entei, and Raikou, who watched from the stadium's edge with stern eyes. "The Alphas of the Wild Alliance look displeased," added Shanala in an undertone, eyes rising to the ancient Pokemon in the sky. Though Ho-Oh's feathers glowed with pride, Lugia's eyes were dark and ominous as stormclouds. "I fear Shock's insolence shall not go without consequences."
"Understandable; after a hundred and sixty years of watching the wilderness, the Wild Alliance would be loathe to surrender such power, even to the likes of Rush," said the Flareon, thinking of the Manectric's message, delivered by the Skarmories from Slateport. He turned his eyes to Rush, standing proudly against the morning light. "But they cannot ignore his results. With all of their patrols directly under Rush's control, our operations will proceed smoothly."
But the Ninetales still looked concerned. "Our forces remain intact, but the Wild Alliance's power has been scattered," said Shanala darkly. She gestured to the Dragonite at the far end of the line. "Behold, the legendary hero Roathaus, banished to exile for thirty years after the fall of his guild. What will happen to these lands, without the Wild Alliance to ensure balance?"
The Flareon watched with silvery-blue eyes as the Champion Red read a poem of requiem in the human language. "I trust in Rush's wisdom," he said, smiling at his queen. Then, looking across the wide stadium, his features growing stern. "For now, we must find out who has taken the Orbs..."
"It's been a long time since we traveled together," commented Delia, looking to Shock as they padded down the banks of Oldale River, the patrol following in a winding procession after them. "Funny to think about all that's happened in the last couple years, huh?"
Shock merely grunted. "Not everything that's happened in the last few years was good, even before the war," replied the Manectric sternly. "Roughly five months ago, another Manectric told me that his pack broke up when the leader was killed by his brother. Though he did not like the leader any more than the brother, I understand."
"And of course, our cousin in Ilex Forest was abducted two years ago," added Delia with a flick of her tail. "But no matter what's happened since we parted ways, we're both still alive." They fell silent, listening to the chatter of the patrol behind them. "The other soldiers... Do you trust them?"
Frowning, the Manectric considered that for a moment. "They're all brave and worthy soldiers, if they survived this long," replied Shock finally. "I don't know if I could bring myself to discipline any of them if I wanted. But my ability to hold the pack together depends on them believing that I would."
She gave him a quizzical look as they approached a turn in the river. "Really? I'm not sure I'd trust all of them," said the Delcatty. "There's a few funny stories about some of the soldiers. Take that Zangoose over there, or that Buizel with the rapier."
He hesitated. "Most are from the Conclave, like Thalia," said Shock, scanning the riverbend up ahead for a place to cross. "Lugia's warriors tend to be more symbolic than deadly. Certainly, the Raichu's sword looked more ornamental than useful. But I doubt they will pose much of a problem."
She laughed. "Okay, I guess you'll manage," said Delia, glancing back to the patrol behind them, adjusting her neckerchief. "Well, I figure you'll keep them in line, anyway." The Manectric rolled his eyes; he'd never punished HER as far as he could remember.
They were silent for a moment. Then, the Delcatty's eyes narrowed, her smile vanishing. and her paw brushed against a recent scar left on Shock's flank. "This looks pretty new," said the cat, staring up at Shock intently. "Was it a very nasty wound?"
The hound blinked and followed Delia's paw to the scar, frowning. One scar was inconsequential after years of battling for the Wild Alliance. "That was from the battle in Celadon City," said Shock, firmly pushing her paw away. "I led the charge. Don't worry about it; it's healed."
"Oh, get a room, you two," sighed Amber.
Delia and Shock stopped dead in their tracks. The Pikachu stared as the Manectric whirled to face her. "She's my sister, you twit!" snapped Shock.
"How was I supposed to know, you dumb mutt?" retorted Amber. "What with you practically drooling over her the whole morning? I guess that means you've got a brother complex or something."
Shock bared his teeth. "You've gotta be kidding me. I came back to Hoenn for this?"
Delia sighed. Annoying as Amber was, she was their only guide. The Pikachu had acted as the patrol's navigator for the past three days, leading them over rivers and through forests, pointing out to water and food sources.
"Yeah, you just keep with your mission, or whatever," said Amber, pointing at Shock. "You're just a whipped dog who takes orders, aren't you? I bet you ate out of a doggy bowl every day of your life!"
Shock and Amber began bickering with each other furiously. Thalia prodded Sparktail with a paw while stifling her giggles. "Oh, Amber," said Magik, shaking her head while balancing a book on her head. A few feet away, the Zangoose rolled her eyes.
"Stop this, both of you," snapped Delia, stepping between the two electric types, wincing as sparks flew from their pelts and set her fur on end. "Can't you two talk to each other for at least a minute without losing it?"
"H-here... a gift." The Raichu pressed the red jewel into her paws. Her eyes widened. "I... maybe it's not mine to give, but... it should be yours. And... I've got the blue one." Swallowing, he quickly turned away as she stared at him.
Shock's patrol watched as Amber paddled across the river on a long piece of bark, pulling a makeshift vine-rope behind her. Reaching the opposite bank, the Pikachu secured the rope to a sturdy rock.
The rest of the patrol burst into cheers as Amber's friend, the Plusle, darted across the long vine on nimble paws. One by one, the patrol crossed the running water, paws clinging to the long tendril as a guideline.
Putting the red jewel in her pack, Thalia entering the river. "Sparktail?" she called worriedly. But even her voice did not move him now. All he could remember were those disdainful, contemptuous eyes, looking upon him in shame. And now, having stolen from the gods, he began to wonder if he deserved that.
Slowly, the fifteen Pokemon proceeded towards Littleroot Town in the distance. A tiny hamlet tucked away in the woods, Sparktail recalled vaguely that it was home to Professor Birch, that field researcher on Pokemon habitats and behaviors.
Compared to the large cities that he'd seen before, Littleroot was clean. No streets lined with bodies. No high-rise buildings collapsed on everyone's heads. He could almost imagine humans still hiding inside their wrecked homes, waiting for the right time to come out.
Yet it was scarred all the same, scarred by the Exile's fury. Its simple, idyllic beauty was lost. This town was once beautiful, wreathed in tranquil green. Now, the forests were dark and mysterious/ Why did he never stop to appreciate the scenery until it was gone?
Standing in the doorway, he stared into Birch's laboratory, littered with broken cabinets and cracked glass capsules, dark machines and cold glass screens. Sparktail still remembered Slick's visit to this place, four years ago, when Rush and Insyte fell ill, and the young Professor just might know the cure. That was how much Slick had cared for them, willing to cross oceans for them, just so that they might be happy.
He didn't cry or shout, the veil separating him from the world was still intact. But he couldn't forget those older days, when Slick had been there for him and for the others. The Raichu had never been able to thank or repay him for his kindness, his devotion. Too little, too late; and now, Slick would despise them all forever.
He cringed as he thought back to Slick's last days, little moments here and there that might have made a difference. He wished he had held himself together when Lugia confronted him in the stadium; the Silver Summoner would want nothing to do with him now. Bit by bit, the Raichu grew frustrated with himself.
Ilun, Slick, and Elias, all dead because he didn't act; all seemed to be blood on his paws. Perhaps even Thalia would die one day, and it would be his fault. He needed a new purpose. Something to fight for, something to hold onto... something he would not destroy--
"Hey, you." The Raichu's eyes flew open as he heard a voice from behind, one paw to his sword's hilt, and he whirled around to see a Linoone standing there, perched on her hind legs, staring at him with suspicious, wary eyes.
"You're blocking the way." Sparktail glanced back into the laboratory, this time noticing a red blanket coated with brown and white fur. Nodding apologetically, the Raichu quickly stepped aside so that the Linoone could walk inside. "Thank you."
"Mom?" said a voice. The Linoone froze, and Sparktail turned around. Standing behind them was Ketrail.
"Ketrail!" gasped the Linoone, catching the Zigzagoon in a hug. "You're alive... thank the gods..."
She sniffed him, and her eyes narrowed. "Something's not right. I smell war and death on you." The Linoone stared at Ketrail. "Don't tell me you're a soldier now?" The Zigzagoon's eyes widened.
Stepping back, the Linoone turned to face Sparktail. "My name's Kayla," said the Linoone. "Ketrail's father died years ago. I did my best to raise him myself. But he wasn't comfortable like this. So he left home."
Sparktail was at a loss for words. Shock ought to be the one present, not him. "He's doing okay, I think," he finally managed to say.
"I don't need your reassurance," said Kayla coolly. "I'm glad Ketrail's still doing okay. But I wanted better for him. War? Invasion? That's no way to live." She pointed at Sparktail, and the Raichu's body tingled cold. "You're the Elite's Raichu, aren't you? A fighter like you wouldn't understand the joy of a normal life."
The Raichu stumbled back, shocked. "Mom, it's okay!" cried Ketrail. "They're not the bad ones who killed the professor. We're going to save Hoenn, I promise!"
Kayla shook her head. "Soldiers always bring trouble, Ketrail. It doesn't matter what side you pick." She closed her eyes, tears leaking out. "Ketrail, you're finally home. But why? Why like this?"
Swish, swish, crack. Thalia watched as the two Pokemon circled each other in the clearing, sparring with bare claws. "So, where are you from?" asked the Zangoose as her claws met the Sneasel's. "You smell like you lived with humans, so you didn't come from Mt. Silver."
The Sneasel moved to one side and grabbed the Zangoose's wrist as she swiped at him, dropping down and rolling back, throwing her past his shoulder and to the ground. "I'm from Snowpoint, actually," said the Sneasel calmly as the Zangoose sprang to her paws. "The name's Lane. Yours?"
Turning away, Thalia sat on the camp's edge, staring out over the woods, watching for intruders in the surrounding growth. Days were blurring together as the patrol moved further into the wilderness. How long had it been since they landed at Slateport? And how far had they traveled?
In the back of her head, Thalia was sure that this part of the mainland was very small, and they couldn't have been here for more than a week; and yet, she felt as if they had been hiking through the woods for months. All order seemed to unravel in these forests, beneath these trees, in this nourishing sunlight.
The earth was brimming with sheer life, every blade of grass humming, every flower rippling with glowing seeds. It was that mysterious sensation that only her fellow grass-types could recognize, as if a hidden prescence was watching her every move.
After the barren wastelands of Sinnoh, the Leafeon had found the sensation of the woods comforting back at Witch's Bridge, when she and Sparktail were gathering the Orbs. But now, it set her fur on end, kept her wary, tinged her with fear. "The forests of Hoenn are very alive," said Thalia to herself, uneasily glancing around the forest. "It's almost... too alive."
"Duck!" yelled Shock, whirling around and around as Zigzagoons on the rooftops of Oldale pelted the patrol with sticks and stones; Sparktail pulled Thalia back under a sign, sword drawn and eyes frantic. "This is useless. Everyone, fall back!"
After the patrol had retreated, Amber and several other natives went to speak with the Pokemon in Oldale, thoroughly surprised by the assault. To Shock's disappointment, they returned with the report that while the Pokemon did not love the Red Dragon, they felt that the Retrievers would only bring more trouble.
To everyone's surprise, Shock did not press the issue. "Well, they won't attack us unless we attack them," replied the Manectric grimly. "They may not be with the Exile, but they seem to have little love for humans either. That's not something we can change." He looked at his patrol sternly. "So we're leaving them alone. Got it?"
"Got it," muttered the Zangoose.
A soft, musical cry filled the air as the patrol trudged on. Shock's eyes widened as he saw Altaria landing by a small pond up ahead. Signaling for the patrol to stop, he padded forward. "Greetings, daughter of heaven," said the Manectric, prostrating himself before Altaria. "I'm surprised they sent you."
Altaria smiled. "Unlike Skarmories, I have no reason to fear fire," said the Herald, fluffing her wings gracefully. "So long as Scarlet Streak's storms remain quelled, the skies are mine to roam."
"I suppose Suicune was concerned that I did not return," said Shock. "My apologies. The anti-air Magmortars would have made extraction too dangerous."
"Ah, not at all," said Altaria with unfitting calm. "I expect Suicune will be pleasantly surprised to learn of your survival."
Shock blinked. Delia looked aghast. Wyrn and Sheltur exchanged looks while a Growlithe and a Phanpy began muttering to each other darkly. Sparktail's ears flattened back. Did that mean they hadn't been expected to return at all?
"In any case, they'll be sending more Pokemon over soon," said Altaria. "It's not Suicune's idea, mind you. The Wild Alliance isn't quite what it used to be, I suppose. There's no question that Rush is running this show now. You'll be getting reinforcements within the week."
That finally lightened up the mood. Thalia looked excitedly at Sparktail, and Ketrail started to cheer up. "So, the war's coming here after all," chuckled Shock, sighing in relief. He nodded at Amber. "Hear that? We'll be getting all the help we need to take down Garchomp. These islands are our home, too, and no one's going to chase us out this time."
"Our home, huh?" muttered Amber. Then, she shook her head, a small smile forming. "Well, fancy that! Hope you're seeing this, Scarlet Streak, because this is the start of the end for you!"
Altaria spread her wings. "Well, Shock, I'd best be going," said the Herald, smiling. Her gaze passed over the patrol, pausing with a frown at the Eevee between Wyrn and Ketrail. "Best of luck, captain."
"Altaria, wait!" called Thalia, running forward. "Don't go yet! It's been a long time since we've seen each other..."
"Don't worry, Thalia," called back Altaria as she rose into the air. "I'm a messenger for the gods, you know. So I'm sure we'll be seeing plenty of each other from here on out."